More of Cliff’s hidden gems

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Dec 2018 More of Cliff’s hidden gems

By Pat Murphy

With 124 Top 40 hits under his belt – 68 of which were Top 10 – it’s inevitable people associate Cliff with his hit records.

To many, that’s who he is: nothing less but nothing more. In reality, though, there’s much more.

In this sixth and concluding instalment of a series acknowl­edging Cliff’s 60th anniversary in the music business, we’re looking at some examples, touching on items from his recorded repertoire that most non-fans know nothing about. For want of a better term, we’ll call them hidden gems.

Organized chronologically by recording date, they span the years 1960 to 2009.

Working After School

This is a quintessentially American teen beat song, cour­tesy of the Vic Abrams-Phil Medley writing duo. While the original Mike Leeds recording is a thoroughly insipid affair, the same can’t be said about Cliff’s rendition.

Backed by The Shadows, he takes it at a faster clip and the overall effect has a tuneful, beaty crispness you won’t find in the original. It’s a blend of muscle and melody that would have provided a big 1960 hit had it been released as a single. Instead, it was the concluding track on the Me and My Shad­ows album and had to be con­tent with a performance on the January 14, 1961, edition of Saturday Club.

Poor Boy

This, too, could have been a significant hit single.

Recorded in April, 1961, Poor Boy first surfaced on the 21 Today album later that year. It’s up-tempo, features strong under­lying rhythm guitar work and has a different sense about it than other Cliff rockers of the day. A friend of mine once described it as sort of Tex-Mex.

Although I’m not aware of it being featured in any UK per­formances, Poor Boy obviously developed an identity of its own. During Cliff’s 2007 Dubai concert, it was a requested piece.

Sway

This was first recorded in Spanish during the spring 1963 Barcelona sessions that pro­duced the When in Spain album. The dating of the subsequent English language vocal overdub is iffier.

An NME item in August, 1963, indicated that English versions had been completed for all of the When in Spain tracks. But there’s also a July 1964 record­ing sheet that includes Sway among the six numbers taped, during what would have been a remarkably productive studio session of less than three hours. But whatever its provenance, the English version did not see the light of day until the Cliff Rich­ard album released in April 1965.

It’s an excellent rendition of a song that began its life as the Mexican Quien Sera in the early 1950s. Iit’s also different – as in more Spanish sounding – than earlier English versions by the likes of Dean Martin and Bobby Rydell. Again, the guitar work is impressive.

Never UK single material, Sway nevertheless showed up in Billboard as an Israeli No. 2.

I Who Have Nothing

When Cliff began putting himself about on the night­club circuit in the late 1960s, he incorporated an intimate spot where he’d sing to his own acoustic guitar accompaniment. The Lady Came from Baltimore was the first such offering, subsequently replaced by I Who Have Nothing in 1970.

Accustomed as we are to dramatic versions by Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones, it’s not a song we’d naturally associate with Cliff. It’s too big and seems to call for a degree of overt curtain chewing that doesn’t fit with his style.

Still, his March 1971 record­ing is first-class, a splendid example of how to adapt a song to your own scale without los­ing any of the inherent feeling. Oddly, it sat unissued for over 37 years, becoming available only in 2008.

The Game

This comes from what was Cliff’s last starring movie role, 1973’s Take Me High. Written by Australian Tony Cole, it’s a quiet ballad that reflects on life choices and their implications for loneliness. Truly a little known gem, beautifully performed.

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?

Lots of people instinctively disregard Cliff’s religiously- themed recordings. Like Bruce Welch, who passed on produc­ing the Small Corners album, they want nothing to do with “God stuff.” That’s a pity because some of this material is excellent, a perfect example being Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?

When Cliff began doing spe­cifically gospel-oriented con­certs, he’d a problem finding suitable songs. Then he came across Larry Norman, the long-haired Californian exponent of what was called Jesus Rock. Norman wrote with a distinct edge and many of his songs had a high energy level. You might even call them aggressive.

Why Should the Devil is a ter­rific rocker. Featured as the lead-off track on 1978’s Small Corners, it was even included semi-regularly on Cliff’s secular concerts for several years.

Once In a While

Alan Tarney’s contribution to Cliff, as both writer and produc­er, is well-known. Over a dec­ade culminating with 1989’s Stronger, he produced four albums and wrote a series of hits beginning with We Don’t Talk Anymore.

Because it was never a single, Once In a While wasn’t one of those hits. But it could easily have been.

Tucked away on 1981’s Wired for Sound, it’s an evocation of Tarney’s propensity to write a catchy tune and Cliff’s facility for moving effortlessly within a tight production.

Snow Falls On the Sahara

Natalie Cole had a hand in writing this and used it as the title track on a 1999 album. But Cliff’s version came out the pre­vious year, featuring on 1998’s Real.

Rhythmically, it’s not what you’d have expected from him at the time. I’d even be tempted to describe it as an excursion into light soul. But however you want to categorize it, it’s very good.

When I Take My Sugar to Tea

This old chestnut goes all the way back to 1931 and has been recorded by a number of artistes, including Frank Sinatra. In fact, Sinatra’s 1960 version is a favourite of mine and the contrast with Cliff’s reading is an interest­ing exposition of how different personas can inhabit a song.

As you’d expect, Sinatra pro­jects a worldliness that suggests taking her – or anyone – to tea is way out of his normal behaviour range. Indeed, you’re dubious that he’d ever do such a thing.

Cliff, on the other hand, sounds completely natural in the role. Although more than 20 years older than Sinatra at the time of recording, his voice comes across as 20 years younger! You can find it on the expanded issue of Bold as Brass.

There you have it, hidden gems covering a surprisingly broad range of genres. Check them out.

A native of Ireland, 

Pat Murphy now lives in Toronto, Canada.